Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Price of Admission

Here is the second of (possibly?) many book reviews. Reading is a relatively new habit, but the Lawrence Library book sale is coming up, so....

Anyway, The Price of Admission. This is a book exposing the admissions practices of America's Ivy League, and how the ruling class (a.k.a the rich kids, or should I say, the children with rich parents) have an advantage when it comes to getting admitted. You read about how children of alumni, child celebrities, children of prominent faculty, and star players of the preppy sports (crew, squash, polo - they said it, not me) can get into Harvard, Yale and the like with SAT scores and GPAs lower than the schools' medians. Stories are told of alums who have donated money or bought buildings on campus the year their child is applying, and BAM, the child is admitted. Notre Dame specifically says that a quarter of their incoming class should be alums.

Subjects are featured, some with revelation of their SAT scores and their credentials. Comparisons are even made between two members of the same graduating class (most often at private schools), and surprise, the one with less-desirable credentials gets in because his dad owns planet Earth.

The concept is intriguing (even though it's one of those, DUH! topics - legacies are desirable, because admitting legacies not only keeps alums happy, but helps the bottom line, big surprise), but the author keeps reverting back to his original thesis over and over. Example A, Example B, the rich can buy their way into college.....Example A, Example B, the rich can buy their way into college....over and over again. He offers a final chapter on recommendations for ending these practices, but well-intentioned as they may be, lean more on the side of Kenan Thompson's "Fix it!" SNL character and less on the small steps, how can we work to remedy this.

What I did appreciate was the author (Daniel Golden) writing about Ted Kennedy's long struggle to make higher education more accessible for people of all income levels. Also, it reminded me of something I knew about Harvard but had forgotten - that they now will pay for your schooling if your family income is below $40,000 and you get accepted there. But ah, there's the rub - having your parents make less than $40,000 and getting in in the first place. And he offers an intriguing chapter on how Asian-Americans are being denied admission at rates higher than other groups.

I appreciated reading this book for another reason as well. I didn't have college handed to me. I worked to stay involved and make great grades in high school so that college could be a reality for me. The months between applying and hearing word of my scholarship offer were nervous months for me. I love my alma mater and appreciate how lucky I am to have been able to go to college, and reading this book made me reflect on that. For that, I'm grateful.

Read this for what it's worth. The examples shock you, which is what the author was going for, but the hook is not something you don't already know. Decent read, but not one I will revisit.

And why this book? I work in higher ed, my lifelong career will be in higher education, and I am fascinated by all things higher-ed. Plus, a new copy was on sale at the bookstore for $2.

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